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Why 130 km/h doesn’t make sense for the Hume

By Sgt.Bungers - 6 January 2012 41

A long winded counter arguement to Drive.com.au’s article regarding a 130 km/h speed limit for the Hume Highway, which was also featured in the Canberra Times. Only 1600 or so words, read on if interested πŸ™‚

The issue of speed limits in Australia can get anyone going. Everyone has an opinion.

This was proven in a recent article by Drive, “Why 130 km/h makes sense for the Hume Highway”, when over 23,000 people voted in a poll for the article… 91% of whom voted that the speed limit on the Hume Highway should be at least 120 km/h.

My argument on this topic is a long one (TL;DR). The gist of it is this: Australian rural dual carriageways should not have a speed limit of 130 km/h. The handful of rural motorways (aka freeways) that we do have in Australia could have a speed limit of 130 km/h once we have median barriers along their entire length, but not before certain changes are made in our legal definitions of motorways and dual carriageways. Australian drivers also need to be properly taught the difference between a freeway and dual carriageway and the etiquette for each.

Above: An education campaign from the UK telling people what to do in case of breakdown on a high speed motorway. It is illegal to stop on motorways in the UK except for in an emergency. The same law applies on freeways in New South Wales, yet many Australians are oblivious to this.

Many of those who argue for 130 km/h or more on our rural dual carriageways are very quick to utter the words “Europe” or “Germany” or “Autobahn”. They’ll compare German Autobahns, Italy’s Autostrade’s or Spain’s Autopista’s to Australia’s rural dual carriageways… despite comparing European Motorways and Australian rural dual carriageways being like comparing apples and pumpkins.

Australia does not have very many motorways / freeways that meet international standards, far from it. In rural areas we have almost none at all. There is a common misconception that we do… not helped by the Victorian Government officially naming their upgraded Hume Highway, the Hume Freeway, when it’s only a Dual Carriageway. Not helped by all states in Australia implementing 110 km/h speed limits on rural dual carriageways, outback single carriageways, and 110 km/h rural freeways, further blurring the line between the very different classes of roads.

What’s the difference between our rural dual carriageways and Europe’s motorways?

Prior to implementing speeds as high as 130 km/h on the Hume Highway or any rural dual carriageways, we must do several things to upgrade them to international motorway standard. This requires:

  • Most Importantly: No at grade intersections or private entrances. This means no T intersections or cross roads. No give way signs or stop signs. Every intersection must comprise of a bridge (multiple grades) with on and off ramps.

    This is already the case on freeways in NSW, and the 80 km freeway portion of the Hume Highway from Berrima to the M7. Victoria however has named their portion of the Hume Highway, the Hume Freeway and given it the alpha numeric route marker of M31. Despite there being multiple at grade intersections along the Hume from Wodonga to Tallarook. Full access control is a critical component of a true motorway. To meet this requirement on the Hume will require massive amounts of investment from state and federal governments before we can safely operate vehicles at motorway speeds on the Hume Highway.

  • Many portions of New South Wales dual carriageways are originally single carriageway roads that have had a newer and better grade of carriageway built alongside, then been converted to one way traffic. Some of these sections are pushing having a 110 km/h speed limit in their current state, and would need to be demolished and rebuilt to current standards before a higher speed limit is considered.
  • Laws prohibiting slower vehicles on the higher speed roads would need to be legislated and enforced. Vehicles which are not able to comfortably maintain a 60 km/h average for example. Scooters, horse drawn vehicles, bicycles, tractors and pedestrians. Currently all of these are permitted to operate on much of the Hume Highway.
  • If such vehicles are prohibited, then access / service roads with lower speed limits must operate alongside or close the new motorway along its entire length. It would be a violation of basic human rights to prohibit a person from being able to get somewhere unless they had enough money to purchase a motor vehicle or bus ticket.
  • U-Turns are currently illegal on NSW motorways and freeways. The penalty for which is a mere few hundred dollars and 3 points, the same as performing an illegal U-Turn on a 50 km/h street. A motor vehicle operator performing an illegal U-Turn in 130 km/h traffic could easily result in a fatal crash. An education campaign about illegal U-Turns on motorways would be required, as well as increasing the penalty for such offences substantially.
  • Serious penalties and education campaigns against tailgating and other aggressive or intimidating behaviour. The level of tailgating on Australian rural dual carriageways at present is nothing short of disgusting. Tailgating at 130 km/h can easily result in huge pile ups.
  • A physical central median barrier along the entire length of a road should be implemented prior to a government being able to label that road a motorway / freeway. It is a basic requirement of preventing cross over, head on collisions. The majority of the Hume Highway does not have these barriers.
  • Australia does not have many motorways in rural areas

    The international definitions of motorways are as follows:

    Institute of Transportation Engineers. Freeway: This is a divided major roadway with full control of access and with no crossings at grade. This definition applies to toll as well as nontoll roads.

    Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Freeway: Road, specially designed and built for motor traffic, which does not serve properties bordering on it, and which:
    (a) is provided, except at special points or temporarily, with separate carriageways for the two directions of traffic, separated from each other, either by a dividing strip not intended for traffic, or exceptionally by other means;
    (b) does not cross at level with any road, railway or tramway track, or footpath;
    (c) is specially sign-posted as a motorway and is reserved for specific categories of road motor vehicles.

    British Standards. Motorway: Limited access dual carriageway road not crossed on the same level by other traffic lanes, for the exclusive use of certain classes of motor vehicles.

    Australian Standards: I’m yet to find one.

    Of the international standards that exist for motorways, the key point in all of them are “No Crossings at Grade”/”Does not cross at level with any road”“. As mentioned above, this means, absolutely no intersections where another vehicle may cross the carriageway in front of a vehicle approaching at high speed. No give way signs, no stop signs, no U-Turns, no private entrances no stopping is permitted at all. To be classified as a motorway or freeway, a road MUST have exit and entrance ramps only.

    This means that the Hume Highway, for over 600 km between Berrima NSW and Tallarook VIC is not a motorway, or a freeway by international standards. It is a dual carriageway, or expressway only.. A grade below being a motorway or freeway.

    International speed limits for rural dual carriageways are typically between 80 km/h and 120 km/h. At 110 km/h, our rural dual carriageway limits are at the higher end of the international scale.

    International speed limits for rural freeways are typically between 110 km/h and 130 km/h. So at 110 km/h, our rural freeways are at the lower end of the scale.

    No, our speed limits do not appear to make sense in their present state and are overdue for a review. However demands for 130 km/h on our dual carriageways in their current state are unrealistic and not well thought through.

    But what about the NT’s 130 km/h limits?

    The Northern Territory has unique highways. Good quality, single carriageway roads with incredibly sparse traffic. The population dentition of the Northern Territory is the lowest in Australia, and one of the lowest in the developed world at 0.17 people per square km. Compare that to New South Wales 9 people, or Victoria’s 24 people per square km.

    Speed limits in rural areas of the Northern Territory are a hot topic within the territory itself. Especially considering the year that rural speed limits were introduced (2007), saw their road toll jump by more than 30% compared to the previous year when they had no speed limits. However, that is a different subject for discussion.

    That said, the relatively crowded area of south eastern NSW and central Vic that the Hume Highway passes through, cannot be compared to the near deserted central Northern Territory by any means.

    Screenshot mid-way through a recent poll on Drive.com.au asking readers opinions on speed limits on the Hume Highway which received over 23,000 responses.

    Why doesn’t Australia have a network of motorways that comply with international standards?

    Europe has a population density of over 70 people per square kilometre, a population of 800 million. Australia as a whole, not even 3 people per square kilometre over a similar sized land mass. Australia does not have the population or funding to build a fully-fledged freeway system across the whole country yet.

    Summary

    There are some portions of road classified as Freeway in NSW that could easily have a 120 km/h speed limit today without any modification, this could be reasonably upgraded to 130 km/h with only minor modification. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau suggested these speeds were already possible in a report titled Potential benefits and costs of speed changes on rural roads” back in 2003.

    The majority of rural dual carriageways in NSW and Victoria will need major infrastructure upgrades prior to a 130 km/h speed limit being feasible. Funding for such a project could cost billions. Money which could be argued would be better for long overdue railway upgrades in the first instance. However, with minor modifications, the majority of the Hume Highway could reasonably see a speed limit of 120 km/h within a few years.

What’s Your opinion?


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41 Responses to
Why 130 km/h doesn’t make sense for the Hume
spinact 11:49 pm 06 Jan 12

I agree with Mysteryman, there are many parts of the Canberra to Sydney route that could accommodate 120 and even 130km/h. I’ve driven a few European motorways and yes, there are some great stretches of road, but there is an equal number of not so great stretches which have the same limit. The same can be said for the Hume Highway.

As for German drivers being able to handle high speeds? Bit of a generalisation but maybe this is more due to experience gained from being able to drive 130+ rather than a more stringent licensing system? From what I’ve seen, Australia’s licensing system is mostly on par with the majority of European countries.

mr_wowtrousers 11:07 pm 06 Jan 12

I just did the drive from Canberra to Brisbane and will be doing it again in 2 weeks time (and have done this drive many, many times) and the complete and utter lack of ability of Australians to even comprehend driving on a two lane dual carriageway, let alone a three or four lane freeway is truly astounding.

The amount of people who just sit in the 2nd, 3rd or 4th lanes going 20/30km under the posted limit as traffic zips to the left and righf of them begs belief. People weaving in and out of traffic. Country drivers pulling out of their driveways, going 60km/hr in 100km/hr zones only to turn off at the next exit.

We are a nation of shit drivers, we really are.

ThatUniStudent 11:00 pm 06 Jan 12

I should also mention that I have driven on roads throughout Europe, the Ukraine, Vietnam (scariest ever) and the USA. The top speed I have even been on a road was 337 km/h. So I do have a vauge idea about what’s what in terms or roads and speed limits.

ThatUniStudent 10:53 pm 06 Jan 12

Yeah, ahh, TL-DR most of that but I’m going to comment any way.
I just this week drove from Byron Bay to Canberra. I am inclined to agree that parts of the Hume are suitable for higher speeds. But, only in modern cars, and certinly not for trucks. I can say that at 80 km/h I’m comfortable driving, not stressed, and enjoy the drive. At 100 km/h I start getting stressed, worry about accidents and am very wary of drivers around me. At 110 km/h on public roads, I get anxious, am hyper vigilant of other drivers and always worry about what could go wrong and the concequences of that.

At 130km/h on a German/Danish autobahn however, I was a bit more relaexed. Why? Because it was 3 lanes either side. It was all formed concrete. There were wide stopping lanes either side. I was in a modern vehicle. The autobahn police regularly patrolled it.

On my drive doen from Byron I had 3 speed measuring devices, so I stuck to the speed limit. I got overtaken by heaps of cars, and even several B doubles, one of which was doing 126 km/h down a hill. I spotted NO police random breath checks and just 2 police cars during the entire trip, with both police cars being at Golburn. I encountered several dipshit drivers, including 2 that overtook me and then immeidetly slowed down right in front of me. Overall most drivers were safe, courtious and not stupid, but you have to cater for the real idiots out there and the ones who just happen to make a mistake.

I would vote no for a speed limit increase. At 130 km/h when things go wrong they go wrong faster, happen quicker, and have more devestating concequences than at 110 km/h. If you want to go that fast, do it on a race track or buy a plane ticket.

goggles13 10:50 pm 06 Jan 12

Until there is absolute consistency on speed limits for different types of roads in this country, then I will not buy that the Hume (for example) in its current state is not suitable for 130km/h, whereas 130km/h is suitable for the NT.

I don’t believe it is valid to use population of a particular state or territory to determine speed limits. the argument against 130 provided above seems to intimate that the Hume should not have a limit of 130 as it is more likely that with a higher population, there is greater chance of someone pulling out of a side road and therefore a greater chance of a fatal accident occurring.

driver behaviour will determine whether or not an accident will occur in such circumstances, particularly given the appalling standard of driver competence at the moment.

it should also be noted that the speed limit on the Stuart Highway around Narrandera, Hay and Balranald is 110km/h, presumably in recognition of the great distances to travel, and to possibly prevent driver boredom/fatigue.

this should be relevant in determining the speed limit on the Federal/Hume/Barton Highways for example.

what_the 8:57 pm 06 Jan 12

Okwhatever said :

what_the said :

It’s not the roads that are the problem, it’s the current system pumping out the woeful drivers we have now that is the issue. German drivers can handle high speeds because of their much more stringent licensing system. In Australia they may as well hand them out, you need more training to get a forklift license!

I don’t agree, the “current” system is designed for what is out there now. The appropriate training system and licencing should be provided if and when changes are made. Do you include yourself as being a woeful driver? Probably not I would guess and odds are driver training requirements have improved since you did the training and always will be been improving. if you got your licence 10/20 years ago under a more relaxed system does that make you a worse driver than a P plater that has just gotten their licence last week? You would probably think so am I right?

Ive undertaken every driver training courses available, all of which I think should be compulsory. The fact that we drive at the speeds we do yet aren’t even taught what to do in an emergency situation just baffles me.

Skidbladnir 8:38 pm 06 Jan 12

I won’t fall into your trap of directly comparing Autobahnen with the Hume, but our road risk modelling can unequivocally be described as fucked.

MERC600 8:16 pm 06 Jan 12

I like a 110 .. I can slip in another Johnny Cash CD with no probs , and generally rubberneck. Plus the car and me are startin’ to wheeze a bit.

Okwhatever 7:42 pm 06 Jan 12

what_the said :

It’s not the roads that are the problem, it’s the current system pumping out the woeful drivers we have now that is the issue. German drivers can handle high speeds because of their much more stringent licensing system. In Australia they may as well hand them out, you need more training to get a forklift license!

I don’t agree, the “current” system is designed for what is out there now. The appropriate training system and licencing should be provided if and when changes are made. Do you include yourself as being a woeful driver? Probably not I would guess and odds are driver training requirements have improved since you did the training and always will be been improving. if you got your licence 10/20 years ago under a more relaxed system does that make you a worse driver than a P plater that has just gotten their licence last week? You would probably think so am I right?

KB1971 7:34 pm 06 Jan 12

chewy14 said :

After driving the Hume from Sydney to Melbourne last week, the thing that struck me as the most dangerous wasn’t a few drivers travelling at 130 km/hr, it was the massive number of people refusing to take their cruise control off whilst overtaking in certain sections.
So scared are drivers of receiving a speeding fine, they overtake in a period of minutes rather than seconds. Often this results in a bank-up of other vehicles also wanting to overtake.
In some places it was downright scary to be amongst drivers behaving like this.

I thought I was done on the Newell last week. It is a 110 zone & I was sitting on an indicated 118 (I know my speedo reads fast, common complaint with Pathfinders) & I caught a B double. The starights a long & passing is easy due to good visibility. Anyway we came around a slight corner and the road was clear bar a cor off the edge to the right, off I went. I dont muck around when passing & ended up at 130 indicated, then pulled back in back to my indicated 118 (110).

Now I know from experience that the NSW HWP will usually turn a blind eye if you are under 120 in a 110 zone & guess what happend to be the car was that was parked on the side…………

Anyway, he did not pull me over and let me go & the only thing I can think of was that while I was speeding when I passed, I resumed normal veiwing after I pulled in (it was still some 1-2 km before I reached him).

On the way up to Brisbane one of the most frustrating things was the right hand lane dwellers that didint give a shit that you were catching a car in the left hand lane but still continued to dawdle past you. If you are going to pass, PASS!!!!

chewy14 6:43 pm 06 Jan 12

After driving the Hume from Sydney to Melbourne last week, the thing that struck me as the most dangerous wasn’t a few drivers travelling at 130 km/hr, it was the massive number of people refusing to take their cruise control off whilst overtaking in certain sections.
So scared are drivers of receiving a speeding fine, they overtake in a period of minutes rather than seconds. Often this results in a bank-up of other vehicles also wanting to overtake.
In some places it was downright scary to be amongst drivers behaving like this.

The Traineediplomat 6:30 pm 06 Jan 12

As long as ALL vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians on the Highway/Dual-Carriageway/Freeway/roadthingy/Autoput must meet the 130km/hr ‘limit’ and not travel 1km/hr faster or slower then I’m all for it.

Mysteryman 5:30 pm 06 Jan 12

I don’t think it makes sense to change the limit for the whole Hume Highway to 130km/h, but I definitely think that there are significant stretches of it that could (and probably should) be increased to 120 or 130km/h. I’ve done the drive from Sydney to Canberra, and Canberra to Melbourne many, many times. There are stretches of that road that could safely accommodate higher speeds. Other sections should not be changed because they are simply not up to speed.

As far as comparing the roads to European ones… I haven’t driven on European freeways so I can’t really comment on it. I think it’s important to distinguish the difference though (which you’ve done, Sgt Bungers).

what_the 5:29 pm 06 Jan 12

It’s not the roads that are the problem, it’s the current system pumping out the woeful drivers we have now that is the issue. German drivers can handle high speeds because of their much more stringent licensing system. In Australia they may as well hand them out, you need more training to get a forklift license!

hawker 5:10 pm 06 Jan 12

In regards to the Northern Territory (having lived there for 25 years), since the labor party came to power, they’ve dropped the ball on road conditions. To make up for it, and a few other reasons they’ve dropped the speed limit to 130. Maybe they thought they could spend the money raised from all the speeding fines, on the roads, but that never happened. The territory used to have roads to be proud of. Pot holes were fixed the next day and maintence carried out pretty often. Not anymore.

I think with the conditions, newer and far better cars, the limit could be raise to 130. People don’t all start driving at 130, they tend to drive to conditions or their comfort level. The morons will always travel above 110 anyway… I actually think in most places the Hume is a good highway.

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